Comfortably Numb

Sheila Kumar's Storehouse

Published on: 02/12/17 7:36 AM

Book review: Always A Parent by Gouri Dange

Roadmap for rapport

 A guide to traverse a tricky relationship road. 

It`s a fact of life. Children grow up, marry, beget children themselves. Parents stay parents, just growing older. They continue to view their offspring as appendages to be forever kept under wing, protected, fussed over, guided, led. The (grown) children see this as intrusions, an undermining of their individual selves, and react with resentment. Acrimony spreads on both sides and soon, the inevitable conflicts rear their hydra heads.

As self-help books go, Always a parent stands out for its direct trajectory, its clear-cut language, its case studies which are easy to empathise with.

Dange, a veteran family counsellor, seems to have deliberately kept the text simple, almost simplistic, at counterpoint to the concept, which is managing the relationship between parents and their grown children.  She zeroes in on  some of the many mines that dot this track and takes them apart, in the process laying bare solutions, too.

The pitfalls are plenty and the author shines a spotlight on all of them: overdependence, the need to always assert authority at one end of the spectrum, neglect, resentment, and a total disconnect at the other end.

The takeaways from the book are straightforward and very adoptable. That both generations need to recalibrate the relationship. That parents need to look at their children as independent adults, appreciate the qualities of innovation and resilience in them. That children need to view their parents through a more gentle lens, figure out just what makes them behave in ways that sometimes grate, and cut them some slack. The goal is a freshly forged relationship liberally laced with affection and understanding, appreciation and indulgence, and above all respect. This, rather than acting out of sheer habit or the need for control or a mordant sense of duty, can go a long way in making our longest relationship in life a rewarding one.

Of course, parenting is not done with when the child becomes an adult; thereafter, it just  needs to be modified carefully. All the more so in  India, where the parent-child bond can sometimes become a strangulating one. The `requirements` of community, society, tradition goes to ensure that the necessary stepping back is almost never done by the older generation, thus throwing up fresh barriers in the path of this uneven relationship.

An acknowledgement and respect for private space  is intrinsic to maintain defined boundaries between parent and child. The author acknowledges that many families live in joint set-ups, with as many as four generations under one roof, but points out that the same principles of respect and boundaries work well here too, as does the implicit recognition of shared space and private space.

The basic touchstones Dange stresses upon are implicit trust and confidence in adult offspring, some deliberate letting go, stepping back. Both generations need to put a sturdy coping mechanism in place. The heart of the matter is summed up neatly by one of Dange`s case studies. “I have systematically pulled out some of my `investment` in my grown childrens` lives,“ states Bhaskar, 67.

Step by step, the author puts the masterplan in place. There is the recasting of boundaries and strict adherence to them; there is an acknowledgement and respect for private space. There is the need for unambiguous communication, for approaching knotty issues with an acceptance of what can be changed and what just cannot, which will then help dismantle the tower of expectations, disappointments and guilt.  The author suggests that a certain amount of detachment on the part of parents, too,  becomes vital to peace.

The style adopted here is unpretentious, with real-life stories rather than formal case studies,  interspersed with the writer`s thoughts and opinions. Thus, the life lessons all have the ring of authenticity to them. The voice shifts fluidly and impartially between that of the parent and the child. There is an occasional strain of humour, as when Dange clarifies that this is not a book about how children must listen to parents or how to make grown children obey you.

The underlying message then, is crystal-clear: step back without actually turning your back. If understood, absorbed and internalised, this step-back move will go to make the parent-children dance that much more fluid.

In conclusion, the author states that this book is not a manual on managing the grown child and parent relationship. Well, if not a manual, then it is a very good handbook indeed.

 Always a parent: Managing our longest relationship; Gouri Dange, Fingerprint Publication, Rs. 250.

This ran in THE HINDU LITERARY REVIEW of 12 Feb 2017.

ageing parentsAlways a parentGouri Dangegrown up childrenparenting grown children

Sheila Kumar • February 12, 2017

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